VARIOUS ARTISTSStar Power
TO '90s ALTERNATIVE bands, the cheesy, high sugar sounds of the '70s are now the mother lode for wacky covers. You know--it's so bad it's cool. That love-hate dilemma convinced Chicago indie Pravda Records to assemble a third volume of alternative bands doing their best to tart up the perverted memory of Seventies Top-40 hell. Rewarding liberties are taken at every turn. Vic Chesnutt's "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" is scary and stark, the Loud Family put a noisy edge into America's simpering "A Horse With No Name" and Southern Culture on The Skids turn "Venus" into a snaky, finger-snapping romp.
SAM TAYLORDesert Soul
featuring Heather Hardy
SAM TAYLOR HAS been the (mostly) undisputed kingpin of Tucson's blues scene since arriving in 1988. He's collected scattered sessions from these past years onto his debut CD, and Desert Soul shows why he remains one of the most predictably enjoyable acts in Arizona. Taylor claims writing credit for all 12 of the finely produced tracks here, though the tunes--like most "new" blues in the '90s--are rooted in other earlier standards. "Voice Of The Blues," "Ain't Nothin' In The Streets" and "Mother Blues" are especially bright highlights, pushed along (presumably) by the "In Your Face Horns"--I'm guessing because no musician credits are listed on the CD, save for Heather Hardy. Regardless, this is a long overdue collection, and Taylor delivers the goods with style, sweat and a bit of silk.
THE GRASS ROOTSWhere Were You When I Needed You
MOST '60s POP fans know a later Grass Roots lineup that was responsible for the oldie-station regulars "Let's Live For Today" and "Midnight Confessions"--but their 1966 debut LP was basically the work of songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. (They're best known as the authors of a couple other Top-40 nuggets, Barry McGuire's "Eve Of Destruction" and The Turtles' "Let Me Be.") This re-issue of that rare first LP boasts six bonus tracks and amazing sound quality throughout. It's a little less than the "ultimate folk-rock" album--as the liner notes suggest--but is still a finely polished rediscovered jem.
WHEN Uncle Tupelo broke up last year, country rock fans groaned. While a great album always eluded them, the band's creative duo of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar had more than a few flashes of brilliance. Here, Tweedy and most of Tupelo (sans Farrar) have reformed and recorded a knockout debut as Wilco. Tweedy's pleasantly ragged voice and songwriting shine throughout. Catchy, mid-tempo tunes like "Shouldn't Be Ashamed" dominate, but there's also a Monkees/Byrds/Peter Frampton-influenced pop tune, "I Must Be High," a guitar rocker "Casino Queen" and several Tweedy-and-guitar acoustic numbers. The album peaks with "Passenger Side," the best Neil Young song ol' Neil never wrote.
IT'S SPOOKY AS a heroin haze, darker than a bottomless pit. The lyrics focus on Alice-in-Chain's frontman Layne Stayley's battle with substance abuse. Combined with the drowsy Mad Season sound, whatever hope Stayley uncovers is lost in a stupor. There are rare sparks of light: "Artificial Red" is a grunge-meets-blues curiosity. Percussion on "X-Ray Mind" and haunting sax by Nalgas Sin Carne on "Long-Gone Day" save the album from being a total mistake. With luck, Above is just a passing season, and will serve to clear Layne's brain for a better future.
RORY BLOCKWhen A Woman Gets The Blues
THIS TIME OUT Rory gives many of her fans what they've been clamoring for: an album of her favorite country blues songs.
Her guitar slides and stings like a greased swarm of killer bees, but her voice doesn't get as many chances to shine as it does on her ballad-oriented releases. It's somewhere between a shout and spoken word on this disc, although her warmth does bleed through these blues wounds written by Son House, Robert Johnson, Hattie Hart, Louise Johnson, Charlie Patton and others, including one new original by Block.
THE MUFFSBlonder And Blonder
THE LAST TIME I saw guitarist Kim Shattuck she was in her underwear--on stage, that is, with The Pandoras. I last sat with drummer Roy McDonald at a Denny's after a Red Kross show, and I had no idea they'd later team up in what Reprise calls "Everyone's favorite little crunchy, pop-punk band that you've never heard of." With infectious Ramones-meets-Kinks treats like "On And On," "Won't Come Out To Play" and "I'm Confused," this trio (completed by bassist Ronnie Barnett) might just knock Green Day off their artificially colored poser throne. This here's the real stuff, kids, and you're reading this in a newspaper so it must be true, right? It was really good underwear, by the way.
GRANT McLENNANHorsebreaker Star
TOO EARLY TO name my Album Of The Year? Sez who? The melodic and emotional richness that McLennan, ex-Go Betweens, offers is as striking as that of Tom Petty, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Alejandro Escovedo.
It's all here: shantylike folkrock with a dark edge ("What Went Wrong," about lovers' and society's missteps); fiddle-tinged country-western ("Hot Water"); even bouyant, ringing powerpop ("Girl In A Beret").
The payoff comes when McLennan explodes a few imagistic phrases into a full story in the listener's mind. "Girl in a beret/ Makes me feel good/ On Sunday" just kills me. As a bonus, the lovely voice of Ms. Syd Straw harmonizes with McLennan's equally resonant pipes. I think I'm in Gram and Emmylou heaven.
VARIOUS ARTISTSLivin' Lounge
SOME LOUNGE SCHTICK-phenomenon notables appear on this compilation: Buster Poindexter (will someone please cut this man's tongue out?), Love Jones, Useless Playboys and the Lounge Lizards.
It also includes Tucson's very own poolside-in-polyester band, Friends Of Dean Martin, doing George and Ira Gershwin's "Summertime." Listening is like taking three 'ludes with a dusty martini before having sex under a July sun. Notes bend in hot slow-motion: languid kisses of brushed cymbals evaporate beneath the lingering, blissful ache of blues guitar.
Best cut: The rhythm and blues rich, brass-embellished swing of "Private Dick" by Donkey, out of Atlanta. The whole album is either/or: you like the lounge craze--you'll want the CD, hate the trend--you'll despise this.
NAKAI, EATON & CLIPMANFeather, Stone & Light
EACH PLAYER, IN his own way via solo recordings and ensemble work, gives the impression of having forged complex relationships between sonic textures, emotional resonance, and actual physical innovation. As a unit, they project a kind of metaphysical response to their chosen geography. It's not often you'll hear percussive sticks, staccato flute riffs and a burly didjeridu tussling in the desert, but "Afternoon At Uluru" here paints a vivid improvisational picture. For that matter, what is a "Sonoran Raga"? A psychedelic free-for-all, perhaps, featuring gonglike rock chimes from Will Clipman, Middle Eastern-style fretboard twangs from William Eaton, and of course the calming powers of R. Carlos Nakai's flute. An intense session.
CANNONBALL ADDERLEYIn Concert - Europe 1969
JULIAN "CANNONBALL" ADDERLEY(sax), Nat Adderley (cornet), Joe Zawinul (kybd), Victor Gaskin (bs), and Roy McCurdy (d), do a little bit of everything, from the blues with one of those early electric pianos, to the funk/jazz that came to be one of Zawinul's most adhesive trademarks, to some inside pocket 'bopswing.' The brothers in harmony and counterpoint on horns is sweet. Not a period piece, this captures a wide variety of jazz at an interesting junction--both for these particular musicians, and for the transitional era in which they meet on this live date in Paris.
BUTTHOLE SURFERSThe Hole Truth...
AT A MID-'80S show I asked Gibby the singer if I could tape. "Sure," he drawled, "but why would anyone want to?"
Well, maybe in order to cut a bootleg. Here, the Surfers pull a Zappa by repressing a particularly pulchritudinous boot. Intact, right down to the cover art. And while their sprawling <I>Double Live<P> 2-CD "official 'leg has a more consistent DAT sound quality, this 'un is snazzier from both performance and historical viewpoints. An '85 "Moving To Florida" skronkfest nestles alongside a monstrous '89 jam called "Psychedelic," not to mention a hysterical '93 lo-fi revisit to "The Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey's Grave."
This is what indie rock used to sound like.
MORRISSEYWorld of Morrissey
IT'S NOT THAT I want Morrissey to die exactly, it's that I want him to die slowly, in pain. Aware that this is blasphemy to those who consider him the "Sinatra of Generation X", I have to ask myself what do I hate about the guy? For starters, his quivery voice is art without the passion, his hookless, say-nothing songs just lay there and most of all, I miss the rest of The Smiths. Being in a band held his excesses in check. Speaking of excess, his ego, which on the U.K. self-love-O-meter runs a close second to Bono and Sting (tie), makes me sick. I like his androgyny, shifting sexuality and occasionally evocative lyrics. But the guy is cold-blooded. All of which means this collection of new material, live cuts and old favorites is great if your a fan and poison if you're not.
ALEX CHILTONA Man Called Destruction
THESE DAYS THE legend of Alex Chilton looms so large that it's hard to see the man who still exists underneath. Here, that man, a man whose personal life definitely fits under the heading of "destruction", shows he still has loads of talent to turn on when he wishes. Lost in the rush to lionize Chilton's role as alternative forefather are his considerable guitar chops and surprisingly supple voice, both of which get a workout on this disc. The style here is straight ahead Memphis blues-a-billy, although wonderful covers of the Beach Boys' "New Girl In School" and that forgettable piece of Sixties kitsch, "What's Your Sign Girl," show Chilton's still one of pop's greatest suckers.
IMAGINE A DESERT island. There's a crate jammed with baggies, Adidas pumps, Kangol hats, and only five albums: the first three Beastie Boys albums, the second Public Enemy release, and a greatest hits set from Red Hot Chili Peppers. Welcome to the time warp island of Phoenix hip-hop loons Phunk Junkeez. They like to party, get high, start fights, and screw chicks. They drop pop culture rhymes like "Nikki Taylor/sailor" and "phones/John Holmes." They also go-go-a-fied the old KISS chestnut "I Love It Loud" in order to get on MTV. Being young, white, and Alternative means never saying you're sorry.
That may sound like your bag. It may also sound numbingly derivative in 1995.
THE TEODROSS AVERY QUARTETIn Other Words
IT"S VERY SCARY to hear musicians in their very tender and early twenties have such a firm grasp of realjazz. Avery and his accomplices tear up all this music; they are not only competent and self-assured but they have that metronomic rhythmic security you would only expect from much older players. Roy Hargrove, visiting on trumpet with sax player Avery and his trio, is in fine company. The few standards are rendered with aplomb and the originals are solid, well-structured and full of heart.
Worth all the air play it can get.
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